Students are heading back to school, and you probably went to great lengths to ensure your child has the right equipment — pencils, pens, notebooks, clothing — to make it through the day. Proper nutrition also is a key ingredient for back-to-school success because it fuels brain cells and gives your child the energy and nutrients he or she needs for optimal learning. Packing your child’s lunch lets you know exactly what he or she is eating.
Follow these tips, and not only will you save money, but you will pack a nutritious lunch that your child will enjoy:
—A healthy lunch should contain foods from each of the five food groups: carbohydrates, protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Choose whole-grain products like bread, tortillas, pita bread, bagels or whole-grain crackers. These are more nutritious, have more fiber, vitamins and minerals, and keep blood sugar steady for optimal learning.
—Select protein foods wisely. Use lean meat like chicken or turkey breast, hard-boiled eggs, tuna packed in water, beans or peanut butter. Protein in every meal helps keep blood sugar steady.
—For side items, re-think that bag of chips. Instead, choose carrots sticks, celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins, apple slices with peanut butter, fruit salad, whole fruit, raisins or pretzels.
—For dessert, try whole-grain graham crackers, ginger snaps, raisins, unsweetened applesauce, homemade muffins or fresh fruit.
—Choose a beverage that hydrates, like water, or choose low-fat or fat-free milk for additional protein, calcium and vitamin D. Avoid drinks with calories and no nutrients.
—Choose an insulated bag and freezer packs to keep food at a safe temperature. Invest washable and reusable containers in a variety of sizes. Avoid using plastic sandwich baggies.
—Buy in bulk. Avoid single-serve packaging. You save money when you buy in bulk and pack it yourself into single servings. Buy a large container of yogurt or pudding and use 4-ounce containers to pack your own. Buy a block of cheese and cut it into cubes or shred it. Buy crackers in boxes, rather than individual packages.
—Make your own sandwich fillings. Look beyond lunch meat. Slice your own meat or grill chicken breast and cut it into strips or cubes. Avoid prepackaged lunches, which are costly.
—Pack leftovers for lunch. Use meats, veggies and fruits in sandwiches and salads. Homemade soup is always a good option.
—Use fruits and vegetables that are in season.
—Add some fun touches to the meal. The traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich can become pretty boring. Get a couple of cookie cutters and have kids cut the sandwich into different shapes.
—Think beyond bread when making sandwiches. A good alternative is a whole-wheat pita pocket with hummus, shredded vegetables and grilled chicken strips. ••
(Additional Information provided by Damaris Karanja, MA, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, St. Louis County, University of Missouri Extension.)
Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” Her Web site is www.divapro.com